The public and the government react in very strange ways to immigrants. Often they are met with condescension and hatred by an ignorant and xenophobic population, yet there is also the backlash of sympathy from those on the opposite end of society. In both cases there is a tendency, albeit absurd, to consider these immigrants as in some way inferior. The video “Museum Songspiel” plays on this view of society, reminiscent of the reactions to the Transborder Immigrant Tool, highlighting both the blind antagonism of media and government toward immigrants and the fear of the public to step up to challenge it openly.
In both the Transborder Immigrant Tool and Museum Songspiel “artists” hide their activism behind the word art to absolve themselves. For Transborder Immigrant Tool, even though they can argue because their ‘artwork’ was never used that it is simply that, the label of art keeps the detaches the artist from the potential inherent illegality of his piece. This same concept is revived in “Muslim Songspiel” as the artist and museum owner conceal their attempt to aid the fugitives as part of their artwork. Though unsuccessful, this again brings up how the line between art and activism can be extremely blurry, if existent at all.
Another connection between the two pieces is the reactions of people to each. The provocative reporter, clearly opposed to the cause of the immigrants, attempting to incriminate the museum owner is all too similar to the fiery Glenn Beck, rallying public opposition to Ricardo Dominguez based on little more than fear and blind hatred of immigrants. “Museum Songspiel” even goes a step further with their fictitious government body “the Center for Extremism Prevention”. Simply stating their title seems to rally fear in the citizens in the movie, as evinced at the end by the immediate retraction of the woman’s suggestion to protest the arrest of the immigrants upon hearing the Center for Extremism Protection took them.
For me this was similar to the growth and spread of the Nazi’s in WWII. Even though the majority of the public may have been opposed to the rise and oppression of the Nazi’s, they were too afraid for themselves to stand up when others were persecuted. This theme and internal struggle is addressed consistently throughout the video, particulary during the Greek-theatre-esque choral interludes.
Without much background it is hard to side wholeheartedly with one group or another. Though the video clearly leans toward sympathy for the immigrants and the cause of the museum owner, they were still breaking the law and without sufficient knowledge of the laws its difficult to judge them as unjust. However, i couldn’t help but feel some level of contempt for the woman and man at the end who clearly lament the fate of the immigrants yet feel no need to do anything about it. I found it strange that her reason for wanting to help was that they were actors and deserve to be above the law as a result. This aspect of art being more important than law that was brought up several times in the piece seems rather ridiculous to me. However, simply the injustice of the law and the demotion of people to subhuman is the problem, regardless of their artistic importance in society.
As the world has become more interconnected and access to information has become essentially limitless, the pace of the world has seemingly jumped considerably. With that has come a regrettable decline in society’s attention span. We rarely dwell on issues for more than a few days; even when they headline newspapers and TV broadcasts for a week, stories are forgotten a week later. In this climate, longterm, significant political and social reform is rare if at all possible.
In “The Coming Insurrection” it is stated, “It took half a century of struggle around the Enlightenment to make the French Revolution possible, and a century of struggle around work to give birth to the fearsome ‘welfare state.’ Struggles create the language in which a new order expresses itself. But there is nothing like that today.”
The overload of information in the current day has also left us unable to focus on single tasks. Protests are rarely sustained for extended periods of time and if they are they are generally lacking any distinct direction or else carried out only by select few. Though widespread agreement of the necessity for reform in areas of life is easily obtained, the general population has become too distracted by everything else there is to be done to cohesively fight for issues.
Perhaps this explains the attraction away from the bustling city life and into bland agricultural communes for the residents of the French territory of Tarnac. Maybe the reason they have decided that they must live in this plain and simple environment, detached from the worries and wears of life within society as they have found it the only way to truly fight for the changes they want to see, to live the life they see fit. This would explain why one woman Aaron Lake Smith met on his trip said, “You know, we are not some subject to be studied by an ethnologist. You can’t just come to this place and know it. You have to live it.”
It is only in this world, so removed from society, can one drown out the background noise of unimportant and unrelated news and gossip that has become deafening and overbearing. Only in the calm of the country can the true issues of urbia be fully exposed and opposed.
As he continues on his trip and begins talking to another woman named Marielle, she brings up another interesting point about our society as she explains, “We would rather elect a fascist like Sarkozy and try to oust him and talk bad about him than elect a gentle socialist like Mitterrand. When Mitterrand was elected all the socialists were so happy, and they said: ‘Wow, finally we have socialism and we can just work a job or sleep or whatever.’ All the social movements died off under Mitterrand. The people were asleep. At least with Sarkozy we know who our enemy is—though for a long time, nothing happened. People were too afraid of him because he’s a madman. Now, in the past years, there have been violent demonstrations and strikes. The police have been more violent, so the people have been more violent. I prefer a bad president, because at least he keeps the people awake.” Again we have no patience in our society, no willingness to keep up with necessary protest and continually steer our world in a better direction. Instead, when we fight for something we want and get some semblance of it, we accept our good fortune and stop fighting, eventually putting us back into the same destitute position. Fulfilling the motto that history is doomed to repeat itself. In political waves of liberalism, as the people’s calls for welfare and social safety nets die down, the calls for laissez-faire and support of capitalism pick up and the cycle repeats. Yet it would seem, at least according to “The Coming Insurrection”, that these calls have died down over the years. To Hardt and Negri this would be the worst thing society could do as we must oppose the Empire in any way possible if we are to hope not to be entirely controlled by it. Perhaps the anti-Sarkozy sentiment and actions in France are evidence against the invisible committee. But it seems more likely that is a phase that will pass and be forgotten as most are today.
Though I, and I’m sure many of my peers who are in the same situation, can sympathize with the efforts of students who protested in California, they were excessively idealistic, as many young people (especially from California) are. Their protest of the increase in fees and student debt, though admirable, suffers a major flaw. The students, and our society as a whole for the most part, view higher education as a right rather than a privilege, as it has been considered at all other times in history. Most would argue that this is a step forward for society however the issues that plague our young people as they exit college and are unable to get a job any better than when they entered and the only the thing that has changed is the couple hundred thousand dollars of debt they’ve accrued.
The California student occupation protestors believe that a cheaper, or preferably free, education would solve all their problems but this is not only not feasible but also wouldn’t solve the true issues of the higher educational system. First and foremost, higher education is, and i believe should be, privatized as a commodity. Higher education has gotten so expensive because it has become nearly ubiquitous in our culture. In economic terms, demand for higher education has become perfectly inelastic, meaning no matter how much the price increases, we will continue to buy it. It is simple economics – supply and demand – if more people keep buying it, then keep raising the price. It seems that if the protestors spent more time in class and less time occupying buildings they would understand these basic concepts.
However, in the case of education people tend to feel it is immoral if it is denied to anyone in the population. There is a general consensus that public education, education for all, is the right thing and is what will help keep America as the top of the world’s economic food-chain. Well personally, having experienced the digression of public education firsthand, I have no faith in education for all. I may be a cynic, however it has become all too apparent to me over the years that education falls on dumb ears when it is no longer treated as a precious commodity. Though I would not argue against the importance of public education for basic schooling as a means to develop a society with at least some basic knowledge, however doing the same with higher education is both a waste of resources and time.
As the California student occupation protestors note in “Communique from an absent future” college live has devolved at many institutions into the stereotypical party environment from which, “A university diploma is now worth no more than a share in General Motors.” This is the result of an overpopulation of colleges and a subsequent diminishing of their importance. The fact that nearly everyone goes to a college or university no longer makes it distinguishing and therefore it doesn’t matter. Many leave college no better prepared for the the working world than when they entered and end up taking jobs for the same salaries they held prior to pay off their debts.
Thus the protestors hearts are in the right place but they are naive if they think their fairytale ending is possible. There is no way we can achieve free higher education for everyone and if we did this education would become meaningless. The protest tactic of occupation is misdirected. If they truly want to lower the price of their education the correct tactic would be a boycott. The truth is higher education has become immensely overvalued by our society who clings to the idea of studying hard to get a good job to move up the socioeconomic ladder. For the vast majority this never works out and the eventuality is a job for the same salary they could have gotten out of highschool simply with more debt. Free education is not the answer, rather a re-evaluation of the place of higher education in our country.
The events of the J18 protest as described by Brian Holmes come off as a sort of Occupy Wall Street on steroids. Holmes depicted the protests that took place in the streets of London and outside the LIFFE building that day like something out of the film “V for Vendetta”: masses of masked protestors taking the the streets and charging a building in protest. Except in this grand finale there was water shooting into the sky rather than flames, debris and fireworks. Yet the poetic message of both remains the same, “another world is possible.” In the film this was in response to a repressive governing body, however the protests of J18 and protests connected to most of the works we’ve read have a different enemy; Negri and Hardt’s “Empire” that controls everything, Guy Debord’s “Spectacle”, they were protesting neoliberalism and the commercialized-industry controlled society we have become.
However the effectiveness of the J18 protests were hardly more than a situation, in the SI sense of the word. It served as a means to spread a message that has and will be spread many times before and again. Its placement on the day of the G8 summit and outside a financial established its argument against the inequalities of the current system. It was understood that it was fighting against the oppressive nature of our capitalist system, but what did it accomplish? People may have temporarily felt an anger toward the corporate giants who tower over our society and may have even boycotted McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, or some international bank for a few days. But in the end this protest couldn’t have effected that much change seeing as society has hardly progressed in any direction they had hoped, in all likelihood instead becoming more commercially influenced. As hypothesized by the Critical Art Ensemble in “Electronic Civil Disobedience”, the effectiveness of civil disobedience actions such as J18 and Occupy Wall Street is minimal as they only take place in the spatial domain which is generally of little more importance than symbolism in the present day. Unlike protests like those of May 1968 in France or the Zapatista movement, civil disobedient action against the general idea of neoliberalism or “Empire” is of little use, at least in the spatial domain, because, as Hardt and Negri explain, there is no spatial limit to “Empire” and also there is no specific body that can be challenged and brought down such as the Mexican or French governments in these two examples. As a result, J18 was aptly described by Holmes as a “political ‘party'”, since it accomplished little more in the end than providing a venue for people to dress up, blast music, and live generally disorderly.
In Negri and Hardt’s “Empire” a theme consistent with several pieces we’ve read is repeated: the movement in our society toward the diminishing of the importance of boundaries and the spatial plane. “Empire” argues that as society has evolved and capitalism has taken root around the world, we have developed into a society where for the first time physical location and land boundaries no longer have bearing on ruling power, at least according to Negri. The Critical Art Ensemble in the piece highlights this in “Electronic Civil Disobedience” stating that civil disobedience by occupying or otherwise disturbing physical locations such as buildings like restaurants or, in their example, the white house would no longer be effective as it was for Ghandi or the civil rights leaders in the sixties as power, through technological advances, now lies in dimensions beyond physical space.
This feeds directly into Negri and Hardt’s debate. They argue that, unlike the imperialism of the past in which nations (generally European in the modern era and America in the postmodern) established their superiority through dominance and governance of foreign lands, in present society imperialism can no longer exist as power is no longer defined by or intrinsic to land or physical space. As Negri and Hardt explain, “The United States does not, and indeed no nation-state can today, form the center of an imperialist project. Imperialism is over. No nation will be world leader in the way modern European nations were.”
This lack of defined space in which power is localized makes it very difficult to rebel and correct the flaws of the system we live in. In the past, when imperial powers became overbearing or oppressive revolution would follow, as a governing body within defined borders and governing structures can be resisted, attacked and overthrown. However, in the current society, at least according to Negri and Hardt, this physical entity doesn’t exist and thus effecting change can be difficult if not impossible. It can be hard to know even where to aim resistance without physical locations to fight.
Perhaps more significantly, Hardt and Negri profess that the “Empire” can be difficult from within society to be seen as a negative entity. They argue that it presents itself not as a transitory period in history but rather as the way society was always meant to be ruled and will always be in the future. This invokes reminiscence of The Situationist’s “Society of the Spectacle” as the spectacle in their description has essentially pulled a veil over the eyes of society by creating obsession with commodities and physical goods blinding us from the path to true happiness. For Negri and Hardt, the spectacle is comparable (though more limited as it is restricted to an economic and social perspective) to the Empire, which in our society of neoliberalism has convinced the masses of the necessity of globalization and the importance of accepting the powers that now govern us. This refers not just to political powers but an unofficial conglomerate of the monarchy (the collective power of the US the G8 and certain other international organizations), the oligarchy (multinational corporations), and the democracy (the UN and other non-government organizations) that together control and dictate the course of our society despite the will of its constituents. Though this body does not function consciously with a particular aim like a group of greedy, evil corporate execs or politicians would be depicted in a hollywood film, nor as Negri and Hardt jest like a the great Wizard of Oz pulling the strings behind the curtain, yet the effect of their existence creates much the same effect. Like the Situationists, Negri and Hardt hope to reveal to the public the reasons why it is necessary to resist the direction our society has taken and only through not being afraid to resist the ruling powers of our society can we fix the ills that continue to plague our culture and evolve into a less submissive world.
Ricardo Dominguez work in electronic civil disobedience for the Zapatista movement highlights both in its cause and effect the far reaching potential effects of the internet as not only a medium for information but also a tool in electronic warfare. First, the Zapatistas were able to use the internet to expose the world to their story and hopefully gain support for their cause. Dominguez is the perfect example for how successful the use of internet can really be for groups like the EZLN. The Zapatistas could never have predicted that their electronic pleas for support would be answered so strongly with widespread virtual sit-ins and the invaluable aid of the Dominguez’ Electronic Disturbance. Because of the internet’s lack of spatial borders and general lack of any kind of barriers to information, it allows for endless potential for ideas to spread, highlighted by Dominguez’ picking up the Zapatista’s call for help in ways they would never have dreamed.
Dominguez subsequent actions display how the internet has potential for numerous other uses, in particular electronic warfare and hacking. He and his team, Electronic Disturbance Theater, developed the program “floodnet” which attempted to crash the servers of select website’s like the Mexican Government, the Mexican Army, the US government’s sites and other websites considered to be connected with the oppressive mexican regime.
As the Critical Art Ensemble proposed in the piece “Electronic Civil Disobedience”, the lack of use of buildings or places that exist beyond the virtual didn’t hinder the effectiveness of EDT’s floodnet in any way and likely wouldn’t have helped at all. However, though it likely would have been relatively successful without it, the true importance of floodnet was its level of theatricality that both symbolically represented the soul of the Zapatista movement and displayed openly the validation for the EDT’s invisible attack. Floodnet served first and foremost as a means to overload and potentially crash a websites server by automatically refreshing a user’s page so long as their browser remained open. But floodnet also had a secondary function through which the user accessing the page could send the host a message (most commonly the name of a Zapatista that had been killed) that represented the Zapatista cause. This added an artistic depth to the ETD that both defined them and, in its poetic symbolism, strengthened their connection with and similarity to the EZLN. Without this floodnet, though still having the potential for success, would have lacked the depth of meaning that made it so important as another symbol of the Zapatista movement.
Wark in his piece “A Hacker Manifesto” aims to establish ethical grounds for hacking, displaying its origin and usefulness in society. Having recently been arrested, he published the piece in January 1986 I suppose to reverse public perception of the goals and inspirations of hackers and to unite his proclaimed “hacker class” under a common ideology. He proposes that hackers set out not for petty selfish ambitions of theft but rather a noble search for information – to push the boundaries of knowledge, with negative effects such as theft accompanying simply as a necessary bi-product. Wark’s validation reminds me of how Greil Marcus describes the Situationists as, “Beginning with the notion that modern life was boring and therefore wrong, the situationists sought out every manifestation of alienation and domination and every manifestation of the opposition produced by alienation and domination.” Similarly, Wark argues that hackers experience a similar boredom. The boundaries and constraints of society restrict their innovation, suffocating them with boredom. Their boundless intellectual curiosity has no choice but to break these shackles by any and all means necessary.
Wark proposes that hackers are wrongly accused, that society, or rather the ruling/vectorial class is the criminal. He claims hackers are simply explorers – curious and innocent if not virtuous seekers of knowledge – and that their gallant aims are misunderstood and impeded by the tyrannical vectorials who believe in the absurdity of rights to property and distinct innovative ideas.
I must confess I am not convinced by Wark’s idealistic representation of his hacker brethren. Perhaps some portion of his peers (I am inclined to believe the minority) is as he says noble and they are compelled only by curiosity and the need to push the boundaries of knowledge selflessly only for the benefit of society. instead I find it more likely that the majority of hackers fit the burglar mold: using logical codes to ‘jimmy the doors’ and ‘pick the locks’ of computer systems to gain access to different software and information. Call me a pessimist, but in any group or profession I would argue the majority works primarily with selfish aims (generally monetary or malicious), and I should hardly think hackers wouldn’t follow the trend. On the contrary, because of the distinctly immoral allure of hacking given as Galloway says, “Hackers don’t care about rules, or feelings, or opinions,” it seems as though most if not all hackers would enter the class with some selfish aim driving them.
From Wark and the hackers’ point of view, property laws represent lamentable restrictions of access and possibility. For a delusional hacker that believes hacking is the righteous path, protective intellectually property and trademark laws simply hold back the limitless potential of the codes they write. This is probably because the concept of creating eludes a hacker. Hackers believe that if they have access to something, then they have a right to take it and use it. Though this can be useful in expanding on ideas that are developed, it is more likely to be used in taking these ideas or informations for personal gain. Hackers feel no immorality to their action because they themselves are incapable of creating something out of nothing and calling it their own. They aren’t the ones who come up with ideas and deserve to be credited. They aren’t the innocent people whose bank accounts are emptied. Wark may believe that his class is the answer to what he sees as an impending class struggle, but in reality they are little more than common thieves.